Purpose of Review
Despite the American public following recommendations to decrease absolute dietary fat intake and specifically decrease saturated fat intake, we have seen a dramatic rise over the past 40 years in the rates of non-communicable diseases associated with obesity and overweight, namely cardiovascular disease. The development of the diet-heart hypothesis in the mid twentieth century led to faulty but long-held beliefs that dietary intake of saturated fat led to heart disease. Saturated fat can lead to increased LDL cholesterol levels, and elevated plasma cholesterol levels have been shown to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease; however, the correlative nature of their association does not assign causation.
Advances in understanding the role of various lipoprotein particles and their atherogenic risk have been helpful for understanding how different dietary components may impact CVD risk. Numerous meta-analyses and systematic reviews of both the historical and current literature reveals that the diet-heart hypothesis was not, and still is not, supported by the evidence. There appears to be no consistent benefit to all-cause or CVD mortality from the reduction of dietary saturated fat. Further, saturated fat has been shown in some cases to have an inverse relationship with obesity-related type 2 diabetes.
Rather than focus on a single nutrient, the overall diet quality and elimination of processed foods, including simple carbohydrates, would likely do more to improve CVD and overall health. It is in the best interest of the American public to clarify dietary guidelines to recognize that dietary saturated fat is not the villain we once thought it was.
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I wish to acknowledge the guidance provided by Dr. Charlene Compher and thank her for critical analysis and feedback on the manuscript. Additionally, I am particularly grateful for the editing assistance from Candi Parks Gershuni.
Conflict of Interest
Victoria M. Gershuni declares that she has no conflict of interest.
Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent
This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.
This article is part of the Topical Collection on Gastroenterology, Critical Care, and Lifestyle Medicine
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Gershuni, V.M. Saturated Fat: Part of a Healthy Diet. Curr Nutr Rep 7, 85–96 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13668-018-0238-x
- Saturated fat
- Fatty acids
- Dietary fat
- LDL cholesterol
- Cardiovascular disease
- Diet-heart hypothesis
- Dietary guidelines